In a comment on an Advent post I wrote a few weeks ago (Waiting) someone asked, “Why does loving mean waiting?” Last week while talking on the phone one evening a parishioner commented on the Advent Get Fed program I led at St. Alban’s Parish saying, “The fact that the salvation of humanity might have happened in the garden instead of on the cross is pretty extraordinary stuff, I hope we can talk more about that…”
Both comments (one from the Waiting post and the other from the Get Fed program on the same topic) were elicited by my reading The Stature of Waiting by WH Vanstone (Morehouse, 1982). At heart what I understand to be the major insight in the book is indeed what the parishioner on the phone suggested: that the salvation or the healing or the love that God offers humanity is the result of the agony in the garden of Eden rather than in the crucifixion and/or the resurrection.
As someone who – like many of you do – struggles with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement implied in all of celebrations of The Great Thanksgiving in the Holy Eucharist of the Church Vanstone’s suggestion in The Stature of Waiting is, in fact, extraordinary. Essentially what Vanstone argues is that the “handing over,” or betrayal of Jesus by Judas – the event which subsequently led to the crucifixion – is insignificant because Jesus was determined to hand himself over to judgement whether Judas gave him up or not. Jesus doesn’t hide; Jesus waits… Jesus is waiting for our judgement of him rather than for a day that he will judge us, for the judgement of God has already been “handed over” by Jesus’ waiting… and Jesus’ judgement is… wait for it… “I love you no matter what you decide to do to me.”
For Vanstone, in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus struggles with what may come upon him, to be sure, but nonetheless he subjects himself (hands himself over) to the judgement that the authorities (or you and me) will hand him. The judgement Jesus got then, after his waiting in the garden, was that he was “guilty of death.” But it’s not his death (and neither the resurrection) that accomplishes the grace of God given to his persecutors, whoever they were then or are now, it’s the fact that God in Christ hands himself over to us – waits for our judgement.
Complicated? Confusing? You tell me.
For now here’s where the theological rubber meets the road. When Jesus enters the garden of Gethsemane he waits. As Eucharistic Prayer “D” in the Episcopal Church asserts, a la The Gospel of John, when Jesus goes to the garden he has already resigned himself to love humanity regardless of the outcome: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” The deliverance, or the imparting of God’s Grace to humanity (typically associated with the crucifixion and resurrection – not the garden), for Vanstone (and increasingly so for me as his brilliant but sometimes tedious little book takes its effect) means waiting because after Jesus does all that he can (heals, forgives, teaches… loves), the waiting is all that there is left to do.
Here’s Vanstone: “In authentic loving there is no control of the other who is loved: that he or she will receive is beyond the power of love to ordain or know. So when our work of love is done…” (done being the key word here – we might think ‘accomplished,’ the word that The Gospel of John assigns to the moment when God was “glorified” in the passion narrative of his gospel) “…we are destined to wait upon the outcome – to wait upon the response of acceptance or rejection, of understanding or misunderstanding, which either fulfills our own activity or makes it vain. By our activity of loving we destine ourselves, in the end, to waiting – to placing in the hands of the other the outcome of our own endeavor and to exposing ourselves to receive from those hands the triumph or tragedy of our own endeavor.”
Sheesh. At this point it’s tempting to make connections or ‘practical applications’ for divine waiting… But the point here is that loving means waiting because when we love – truly love – we have no control of the outcome or response. All we can do is love and then await the outcome of that endeavor – to expose ourselves (hand ourselves over) to that outcome. And regardless of the outcome, what matters is that we loved – that we waited…. Come what may. Therein lies the Grace of God.